The festive period (Part II - Lobster)
Today lobster is on the menu. It is often thought of as an exclusive ingredient only to be found on the plates in posh houses. Until recently I refused to buy a lobster because of the prohibitive price paired with the fact that you only ever get a relatively small amount of meat out of it. I actually never did anything to the shells and hated discarding them. Then a revelation - I learnt how to make a lobster bisque and lobster sauce (which you can brilliantly freeze by the way) and the price stopped seeming that prohibitive.
In UK you can get either Canadian lobsters or Scottish lobsters.The colder the water, in which the lobster lives, the firmer and more succulent the flesh. Scottish are more flavoursome than the Canadian, but also more expensive. Normally at the Billingsgate market you can get a Scottish lobster around £15 , Canadian ones are sometimes around half that. At the market you can easily distinguish between Canadian and Scottish lobsters: the Scottish one have bluish hue on the legs,
whereas Canadian ones are brown orangey colour.
Storing and keeping the lobster
When buying a lobster as with any shellfish you need to make sure it is alive and active. After you have brought it home you can keep it in the refrigerator for around 12 to 18 hours and for about 20 hours if you put it on ice. Keep it covered with a layer of seaweed or damp cloth to provide moisture.
If you do not want to cook the lobster straight away and would like to keep it for longer before cooking you can freeze it in the shell - this would protect the tender meat from drying out. However, best is to cook and enjoy the lobster straight away.
In the abscence of grill at home or other appliances you can use to cook a lobster, my prefered method is to boil it in court bouillon. For the court bouillon you will need a big pot (make sure the lobster fits in it without a problem). Fill it with water, add bouquet of garni, onions/leek, celery, carrots , bring to boil and let simmer to infuse the flavour. The smaller you cut your vegetables the more flavour will the give to the stock.
There is a lot of debate about cooking and killing the lobster. Research indicates the lobster has no central nervous system or cerebral cortex to register stimuli, thus the creature mostly likely can feel no pain. However, I believe, that as with any animal you eat, you need to respect it and use as humane a method to kill it as possible.
With the lobster there are three methods to go around it: you can either plunge the lobster in boiling water, head first - for the animal to die instantly you need to make sure water is boiling rapidly, when you do so. You can also put the lobster in the freezer an hour before killing, so it goes into sleep and then plunge it into boiling water or slide the sharp tip of your knife just behind its cutting the spinal cord.
Cook the lobster for around 8-10 minutes from boil (for a lobster of around 700g). Then take out of the water and cool on iced water.
After the lobster is cooled down you need to take the meat out of the shell - discarding the vein that goes through the back of the tail and which is a digestive tract.
You can eat almost everything in the lobster, not only its meat. You can use roe of female lobsters to add texture and colour to the seafood risotto.
The dark black greenish stuff that you sometimes see inside a lobster are immature, unfertilized eggs. It is also called coral.
Spread it thinly on a parchment paper
and put for a couple of minutes into a hot oven
- It will immediately dry out and crisp - use it as decoration for your lobster meal or grind it and add to sea food recipes to add flavour.
The shells you can crush with a rolling pin
and either prepare a bisque or make a decadent lobster sauce. For the sauce dry the crushed shells in a pot, add a bit of oil and let the shells roast, add vegetables (again, leak, celery, carrots, fennel are good). Let the vegetables sweat and add the reserved court bouillon and chicken stock) to cover the shells, bring to boil and let simmer. When infused enough (which will take around 30 minutes) pass and reduce and season. Add some double cream to taste and take of the heat. You can also whisk some butter in to make your sauce even more flavoursome.
I served my lobster with a risotto and shelled broad beans, decorated with coral and lobster roe: Yum!
More festive recipes to follow.